He was never a comic, never a theater guy — more of a wallflower, actually. In all his life, he'd never stood up and entertained a crowd. But while suffering an unschooled, indifferent excursion guide during a bus tour of Los Angeles neon, Eric Lynxwiler found something akin to his destiny. He knocked back a couple drinks and began pointing out vintage beauties for the friends he was with. As soon as the ride was over, he applied for the job. And once he got that megaphone in his hand, he never wanted to let it go.
Eleven years later, every Saturday night in the summer, he's still the guy barking out bawdy jokes from atop the roofless double-decker bus as it swings through downtown, Chinatown and Hollywood. The tours, sponsored by L.A.'s Museum of Neon Art, often sell out weeks in advance. It isn't only glowing glass tubes that Lynxwiler, 35, brings to life; it's architecture and a close-up view of the city's ornate history that even astutely observant locals are likely to have missed.
“Los Angeles becomes a great, big toy box when you're on the top deck of a bus gliding down Broadway, and these giant movie marquees with their flashing neon lights are just feet away from you,” he notes. “When you're elevated above the second floor like that, you can see the intricate terra-cotta in the beaux arts, Italianate and art-deco building styles. From that level, above the canopy of trees, Los Angeles is a whole new world.”
Lynxwiler grew up in the South Bay and majored in urban anthropology at UCLA. He makes his living as a graphic designer. Both disciplines contribute to his vast knowledge base, but his commitment to vintage neon is also hands-on. The Googie-style orange Zodiac Room sign on display at MONA, richly evocative of a classic era in American dive bars, is one of many he has salvaged with the help of a red pickup he drives just for that purpose. “It came from the Olympic Motel on Olympic Boulevard — it was part of their Greek theme,” he notes. “I used to point it out on the cruise, and the minute it wasn't there, I did a U-turn to check, and there it was, in the Dumpster.”
It frustrates him that so few business owners think to donate rather than dump their unwanted signs, and that MONA has “zero budget” for marketing. But little can interfere with the high Lynxwiler gets when the bus rolls, and, clad in a loud, vintage shirt, he picks up the megaphone. “I still get butterflies before a tour, but there are moments when I feel like the king of the world,” he says. “We get people from all over, but I really designed the cruise for locals. My idea was, if you think you know Los Angeles, come with me. L.A. is what you make it, and I make it a hell of a good time.”